Station House Café to close in June, citing high rent

05/13/2020

The Station House Café is closing its doors at the end of the month after 56 years in Point Reyes Station, owner Sheryl Cahill announced on Saturday. 

Pushed out by her landlords’ proposal to more than double her rent, Ms. Cahill will consider reopening at a different location in the future.

“I don’t feel like this is the last chapter for the Station House Café,” she said. “I think we will find another way to bring back the essence of what we’ve done here and carry on in a new location. I don’t know where and I don’t know whaen, but I do think we are going to find a way.”

The restaurant is an institution loved by many, brought to prominence by longtime owner Pat Healy, who died in December. Known for its classic American menu, live music and full bar, the Station House has been a place for friends and families to gather. It’s one of the only places serving breakfast in town, and it has a dedicated crowd of regulars. For generations, locals and travelers have made memories dining there.

Ms. Cahill worked as a waitress at the Station House before purchasing the restaurant in 2005 from Ms. Healy, who kept ownership of the building. When Ms. Healy died, her stepchildren, Kirsten and John Hural, and her stepsister, Melinda Benedict, inherited the building.

In a 1,000-word joint statement provided to the Light, the three owners explained their side: The 2005 lease between Ms. Healy and Ms. Cahill was drafted without legal assistance and is "riddled with inconsistencies and ambiguity," and the monthly rent of $8,372 has not changed throughout the 15-year term. Ms. Cahill and Ms. Healy tried to clarify the terms of the lease in 2015, but negotiations did not yield a new agreement, according to the landlords.

Negotiations restarted this year, and the property owners offered Ms. Cahill a four-year lease with rent relief throughout the pandemic, and a short-term extension of the current lease until October. But the deal breaker was the new rent: $21,000 per month. The property owners said they landed on that number after contacting local brokers and landlords to determine the fair market rent for the property; they did not provide the names of who they contacted.

Ms. Cahill counter-offered, but the numbers were too far apart. And though her landlords say they are open to more constructive discussions, Ms. Cahill announced her decision to tearful staff over the weekend.

“The lease terms that were offered were not something I could manage,” she told the Light on Monday. “Even if we were at our peak, we could not afford to operate at those conditions.”

She hesitated to talk more about the lease after a Facebook post on Saturday about the negotiations went viral. Of the more than 1,000 comments, many directed rage at the landlords.

“I thought I was just going to be putting up a message for all the regular 50 people who look at my Facebook page, but it moved very fast. And I do not support the negative comments that came out of it,” Ms. Cahill said. 

The Station House is not immune to the struggles that many restaurants in the Bay Area have faced over the last decade, and the proposed rent increase was the final straw.

Beyond the new rent, Ms. Cahill said rising labor costs and lower customer volume have led to decreased profits. She tried adding a surcharge to bills to offset rising costs, but margins remained thin. 

Paying kitchen staff a living wage became increasingly difficult, and a service model that allows tips for only the dining room staff didn’t help. At Ms. Cahill’s other restaurant, the Side Street Kitchen, she used a fine-casual model so tips could be shared. She wouldn’t sacrifice employee benefits or retirement accounts, and raising menu prices wasn’t feasible, she said. 

The announcement came as a surprise to her 44 employees, who were slowly returning to work thanks to a forgivable loan from the Small Business Administration. About a third of the employees have worked there for more than a decade, and the longest tenured employees have been working there for over 30 years.

“It’s one of those places that you feel like you can work at forever, like you’ll always be able to come back to if you leave,” said general manger Mia Quezada, who started working as a hostess six years ago. It was her first job in high school, and it allowed her to move out of her parents' home and develop as a leader. 

“We were working so much toward the future, planning on a reopening and what that would look like,” Ms. Quezada said. “It’s like losing your family.”

As for what will fill the space, the property owners wrote: “No matter the outcome of our current stalemate, we look forward to continuing the tradition of serving the community by providing the space to a quality restaurant accessible and attractive to all residents and visitors of Point Reyes Station.”